12:00 AM, July 14, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, July 14, 2018

Fiction

The Greatest Gift

It is a bright Sunday morning in spring. Most of the Boulderites are enjoying the outdoors. The curious sunbeams peek through the kitchen window to greet a slim girl with curly hair.  Her name is Geeta Kulkarni. She is busily working on her dishes.

Her apartment is situated close to her office, making her commute short. As per the trend in IT industries, she has to work long hours.  Geeta is a software engineer at a startup company.

She had moved to Boulder six months ago. Since then she has made quite a few friends among her colleagues. She turns twenty-four tomorrow. Mondays are very busy at work. So she decided to call a few co-workers over for lunch and celebrate her birthday a day ahead.

A perfectionist by nature, Geeta sets high goals for herself. She has made an elaborate lunch menu to impress her guests. Now she is racing to finish it all up on time. She gobbles her breakfast of milk and cereal, while stirring and adding spices to her dishes.

A shy girl with no siblings, Geeta was encouraged by her parents to excel in studies. She was on the honors roll in her high school. She completed her engineering degree with distinction from a well-known college in India.

Her adherence to traditional customs has been out of habit. Intrinsically, she has an open mind to adapt to changes that the time demands. Lately, she has been paying attention to her communication skills and wardrobe to put forth a confident look at work. Her sultry eyes and bright smile often belie her insecurities within.

Tears trickle down her cheeks as she chops the red onions into thin slices. The repeated sound of the knife on the wooden board sounds montonous. She has a tendency to fall in love with people easily. And lately she has fallen in love with Mike Cooper, her manager at work. Mike is a brilliant engineer working his way up the coporate ladder, early in his career. He is an avid biker and in great shape. Geeta's heart missed a beat when she met him on her first day. Stunned, she dropped her folder with papers. Mike flashed a killer smile before helping her pick up some of them from the floor.

Last month, after discussing her new assignment, she lingered. “Can I ask you a personal question too?” Geeta asked. “Sure! Get the door if you need to,” said Mike. After closing the door, Geeta assumed it was safe to tell all that was on her mind.. “Um…I have feelings for you. Do you feel the same way?” she blurted out foolishly. She needed a clear answer from him if he felt the same way. Mike suppressed an instinctive smirk and then put on a serious face. “No, I am married,” he said simply. Trying her best not to appear upset, Geeta quickly added, “I understand.” She turned around and left, cursing herself for assuming too much. But she knew that there was interest on the other side as well.

The next few days were uncomfortable as Mike avoided her. Geeta struggled with rejection. She reasoned that her feelings were irrational. Luckily, after about a week, Mike was his normal self again. He smiled and even joked like before. Work was busy and challenging and a month went by fast. She forgot about her blunder.

In the present moment, Geeta concentrates on her cooking and adds some final touches while laying out the table. Rice pilaf, mashed eggplant with Indian spices, creamy spinach with paneer and chicken curry are laid out. She places the warm dishes over bamboo mats.

The guests arrive at around 1 pm. Ed arrives with his wife Sophia and their twins. Sophia, Ed's wife has brought a big tray of tiramisu. The little boys get busy with the small things that lay, unsuspectingly, in her apartment. Geeta is on her toes trying to get these out of their way.   Within fifteen minutes, Gauri and her boyfriend, Amit arrive at the door, holding hands. Geeta looks at them and cannot help feeling a little jealous. Mike left last Friday on a short term assignment, overseas. Like a fool, Geeta was still mooning over him.

During lunch Geeta feels somewhat confident and afterwards she suggests they all go to the nearby park. When they go to the park, the boys run to the slide in excitement. They are having a blast, coming down on their belly. Ed and Sophia are running behind the kids to keep a watch on them.

They are all about to leave the park when Geeta's cell phone starts ringing. “Hello,” says Geeta. “Hi, Geeta. This is Vanessa from HR,” says the voice at the other end. “We want to inform you that your contract ends this Saturday,” Vanessa continues. “Please send us your badge via USPS  and do not make any further contact with any person in Grasshop,” are her clear instructions. Geeta stands there dumbfounded. Seeing her upset, Ed comes and asks, “Is everything alright?” “My contract has ended,” Geeta explains fighting back her tears as best as she can. Her co-workers hug her and wish her well before leaving. 

Back in her apartment, Geeta starts to sob, uncontrollably. She is overwhelmed with self-pity and buries her face in the pillows. “Am I not an effective worker? Is it wrong to love a married man? And I didn't even know.” She calls her parents to tell them about this mishap. “You will find another job very soon,” her Dad says.

But for Geeta days seem long and nights even longer. Sleeping is hard when negative thoughts are crowding her brain. She takes out her diary reading through the dreams she had built in her mind. “Why didn't I foresee this coming? Why am I such a fool?” she thinks, “Did he end my contract because of the question I asked him a month ago? He must have hated me ever since.” She sighs and runs to the kitchen. She picks up a knife. Her left wrist shows a prominent vein. She tries to cut it in haste. As if beyond her control, the knife slips and lands between her feet.

Everything around her seems to change as if she is transported to another dimension. An invisible feeling of love surrounds her. Overwhelmed by it, she does not feel small anymore. Joy and wonder wash away her fear. “I am here to exist….to experience … to enjoy,” her heart echoes back.

Suddenly, a shrill note pierces the peaceful ambiance. Geeta answers her cell phone. “Hello,” she answers. “Wanted to wish you a Happy Birthday!!” greets Amit from the other end. “Thanks for inviting us. The food you cooked was absolutely delicious………Geeta!” There is a slight pause as if Amit is searching for the right words, “I am sorry for how the party ended for you. By the way, I saw the news on TV about a huge layoff at Grasshop. There were about 50 employees who were laid off. I know this does not help but you were not the only one. Geeta, cheer up! I have an opening in our team. Why don't you apply? I will send you the job description via e-mail. Are you available for an interview, tomorrow afternoon?”

After finishing her application on the company website, Geeta goes to the bathroom to wash up. In the mirror, she confronts herself. Her wet eyes are glistening. In the midst of her loss, she discovers a simple truth-- she is living. She is whole. What else is more beautiful than this fact? A confident smile brightens up her face.

The interview with Amit and his team goes well. Geeta enjoys meeting smart people and hearing about new products and market challenges. “If nothing else, I had an enjoyable day and learned lots of valuable information that I can make use of in other interviews in future,” she reflects.

A week later, Amit calls Geeta again and offers her the job. He hesitantly adds, ''Are you free to help me cook dinner tonight?”

Roshmi Bhaumik is a software engineer and lives with her family in Boulder, Colorado.